Category Archives: Film

Happy Moon Day

I always want to say that like Tom Cullen in The Stand… “M–O–O–N, that spells ‘MONDAY.'” I’m not quite sure why. I do personally think we should pronounce them according to their etymology… Moon Day, Tiu’s Day, Wotan’s Day, Thor’s Day, Fish Fry Day, Saturn Day, Sun Day. Makes a lot more sense to me.

Since I’ve been talking about the books I’m reading at the end of the week, I figured today I could talk about movies and TV. I’ve only recently gotten back into watching TV, after cutting my cable back in late 1997. I left for Europe and Japan shortly after that, and when I came back to the US almost eight years later, I’d lost the TV habit. But partly thanks to Netflix and Hulu, and mostly thanks to the strange fact that while movies are getting more homogenous and explody every month, TV is increasingly delving into intelligent writing, great acting, and either long character arcs or serial format, I’m watching more of it than I ever used to. Maybe only a couple of hours’ worth every week, but I actually will occasionally find myself with my butt in front of the screen at certain times of the week, now, something that was always rare for this intractable biblioholic.

I’ll be doing that more in the spring when Hannibal and Orphan Black launch their third seasons. I’ve talked about Orphan Black before, over at the Way Too Fantasy blog, but if you haven’t checked it out, do so before Season Three premiers in the spring. The show is not only home to some of the best acting I’ve ever seen on a small screen, but is sensible science fiction. No ray guns and midichlorians and wacky time travel hijinks here… they take a scientific development that is most likely right around the corner for us, and postulate that it was actually done somewhat successfully in the early 1980s. I’m sure the science is stretched in spots to make a good story, but for the most part it’s grounded in reality, and the 15 hours between the two series spend a lot of time exploring ethical, religious, and sociological issues around cloning, in addition to nail-biting suspense.

Hannibal is a different story. I am generally not a fan of remakes, reboots, and relaunches. Every time I hear of, say, a Spiderman reboot, or a new Star Trek series, part of me (the loud and noisy and occasionally obnoxious side) wishes that the studios would invest in something new rather than retreading the old tried-and-true over and over. There are a few exceptions, such as Star Trek: Deep Space NineBattlestar Galactica, and the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who. The Thing might technically be a remake, but it’s closer to the source material. It’s still a very short list. So when Hannibal premiered last year, I had no intention of watching it. Understand this:  I read Red Dragon when I was a teenager and loved it. It was one of the few horror novels I was able to read with my Mom, who liked murder mysteries and suspense more than any kind of supernatural horror. Later, I read The Silence of the Lambs on a flight to my duty station during the first Gulf War just before the movie came out (or at least, before I had a chance to see it overseas) and was enchanted. I read Hannibal in hardback and had a really bad case of the “mehs.” I’ve not seen either that movie or Hannibal Rising. And, not to disparage Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Doctor Lecter in the slightest, I’m more a fan of the movie Manhunter than Red Dragon. Again… not the biggest fan of remakes, especially remakes of excellently-produced films. The TV show Hannibal did seem interesting as a thought experiment… what was it like before Hannibal Lecter was arrested and he and Will Graham were friends?… but it still seemed like nothing I wanted to watch.

I ultimately blame bOING bOING. While reading episode summaries and discussions of Orphan Black, I saw that they were also following Hannibal‘s second season, and I generally like what they recommend. So once I had nothing more to watch, I pointed my Roku box over to Amazon Prime, pulled up the first episode, and figured I could give it a shot, at least for an hour or two.

If you’ve seen it, you know my reaction. If you haven’t, well, this is what I was missing by not paying attention to the show for over a year:

  • Impeccable dramatic acting, and not only by the two leads. Even the supporting cast… Lawrence Fishburne, Eddie Izzard, Gina “Zoe Barnes” Torres… are heavyweights and very well utilized.
  • Accurate portrayal of a man on the autism spectrum who is still able to function
  • Some of the most tooth-grinding violence (almost always depicted after the fact, when the body is found) ever on television. In fact, it’s kind of funny to realize that they have no problem showing people turned into trees and fungus gardens and other horrible tableau but always make completely sure that nipples are blocked out of camera. But that’s a story for Double Standards Week.
  • Use of the Chekhov’s Gun principle. We know from the start who and what that nice, brilliant psychiatrist helping the FBI is. But watching the reactions of the people who don’t know this, and how he both helps and hinders their investigation adds a unique layer of suspense to the show…
  • (Thematic Spoiler for Season Two, kind of) … which is broken all to hell in a few places later on. I’d read that the director planned on taking it in a slightly different direction than the movies took it, but I was still shocked when a couple of those different directions exploded on the screen. I don’t want to say anything else, but once you’ve made it through both of them, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m really, really curious to see how Season Three (which is supposed to be based on the novel Red Dragon) is going to play out.

So, those are my two shows, right now. Next Monday, I’ll pull out classic horror films in honor of October and fall and other fun things.

 

 

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The Treasure of Quetzacoatl

This comes from the excellent sword-and-sorcery-and-pulp-fiction blog Karavansara. Just as I think the novella is the perfect fictional form (even as I regularly populate ‘best-of’ lists with books like Ulysses and Infinite Jest and the Malazan series) I often find myself wishing more people produced short films. Granted, television (and not just HBO) has quietly been shifting from nothing but fluff and flavour-of-the-month programming (or rather, flavour-of-last-month) to serious, well-produced drama and thrillers and horror shows, but I can never have enough well-made short films.

Sophie’s Fortune:  The Treasure of Quetzacoatl

Reconstructions of Literary Characters

A few days ago, Moviepilot linked to an awesome blog, The Composites, uses police compositing software to create depictions of what famous characters look like according to their author’s descriptions. A few of these were spot-on to how I pictured them while reading the book (except I thought Annie Wilkes had blond hair?) In cases where a movie was made of the book, I felt vindicated at my own image rather than what many of the movies came up with. Definitely check it out.

The Composites

On Netflix: We Are What We Are

One last post to wrap up the weekend. I saw this movie when it was at one of the local art cinemas in Atlanta. I wouldn’t exactly call it a horror film; more of a creepy-as-hell film than anything else. Except for one or two moments, played rather effectively, there are no jump out from under the bed boogity-boogity moments (that’s a film tech word, I swear). It definitely takes a well-used idea and puts a wonderful twist on it. On top of that, the very end surprised this jaded moviegoer because up until that point, I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to end and even found myself saying ‘well, these movies always end this way.’ It didn’t.

Do yourself a favour. Don’t read the reviews… some of the top ones have mild spoilers. Just turn out the lights and watch this. If you like slow, creepy, atmospheric films, you will love this one.

We Are What We Are

New “LORD OF THE RINGS” Footage Found

Via bOINGbOING

When I was un piccolo bambino, I discovered The Hobbit in my school library, sometime during the winter of second grade, and I fell in love with that. Shortly after, I started reading The Lord of the Rings (I was an odd child) and after one of our family’s friends saw me reading the first book, a tattered tenth-hand Balentine paperback from the 60s, he decided that an 8-year-old was not reading and understanding that book. So, he quizzed me about the book. Hard. Once he figured out that I really was reading the book and not just carrying it around (an aside:  I remember being particularly peeved at the review in the front of one of the books, the one that started “This is not for children, nor is it for whimsy-lovers and Alice-quoters…”) he got me a good boxed set of the four books, and either he or my parents got me the calendar with images from the just-released movie.

Now, this was mid-to-northern Michigan in pre-multiplex, pre-cable (for our town, at least) and even pre-VCR. Plus, the movie was something of a box-office bomb. The story I remember hearing is that it didn’t even last a whole week at one of the theaters in Flint. So, I had nothing to console me and my drive to see a movie made from what I would proudly tell anyone who asked, and quite a few people who didn’t, was the best book written in the history of forever. I think I was finally able to track down a dubbed copy when I was in eighth grade or so, after I’d already read the books a second time, along with the first section of The Silmarillion, which I enjoyed until my brain melted. And while I liked the movie (and still do) it could not hold a candle to the sounds and dialogue and music I had put to the images that I would stare at from across the room while I was reading the books.

All this is just to say that I damn near had heart failure when I read this article in bOING bOING. Okay, maybe it’s just a few shots (from one of the scenes I laminated and hung on my wall) but it still impressed the high holy hell out of me). Check it out.

Lost Bashki Lord of the Rings Footage Found

More Storytime Thursday

So, you’ve already listened to the podcast from this morning, and you want more stories. Well… I’m here to tell ya, you’re in luck. I recently heard a rumour that there are people out there who have not only never seen the excellent UK stop-motion animation version of The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, there are even people who are actually not familiar with this story, a shocker to me since I like this one so much I’m writing a serial based on it. Since witches have been known to curse people for lesser offenses, I’m here to remedy the situation. Below, I’ve left handy-dandy links to all five parts (about 60 minutes) of Cosgrove Hall’s production of this most excellent fairy tale.

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 1

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 2

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 3

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 4

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 5

Anyway, it might not be the usual surreal horror that I like to recommend, but it’s still one of my earliest influences. Russian and East European folktales captured my muse back when I was un piccolo bambino and I don’t ever plan on growing out of them.

 

 

Disneyfucation

That’s not a typo.

I like to talk about seeing stories from a different point of view. This is not something I came up with, of course. Two books I read and fell in love with when I was much younger are John Gardner’s Grendel and Gordon R. Dickson’s The Dragon and the George.
And even when I was un piccolo bambino I found myself copying examples of switched viewpoints such as this classic Peanuts cartoon.

All of this has been in the forefront of the offices in my head because I’m writing a second draft of my version of a Disney story, one that is a relatively straightforward adaptation of a classic fairy tale. What surprised me while I was writing that story was that it really was a straightforward adaptation. That is not exactly par for the course for Disney movies anymore. Not that the classic Disney versions of other fairy tales were ever close to the source material (check out the Talking Cricket’s role in the original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi… perhaps he should have wished upon that star a little harder, eh?) I remember being vaguely disquieted as a child when I read the original fairy tales and stories that Disney bowdlerized and sanitized, but since they occasionally produced a quality work of art (such as The Little Mermaid) I lived with it. All of this ended when The Hunchback of Notre-Dame came out in the mid-nineties.

The original novel by Victor Hugo is not as well-known in the US as Les Miserables, which is a shame since it’s just as moving and thrilling as that book, and at 500 pages, about the size of just one of the descriptions of what people shouted at The Battle of Waterloo (in the abridged Les Mis, of course…) Most of us these days only know the story from the various movie versions, and while many of them are  well-done, they don’t quite capture the power and pathos of the source material. Particularly misrepresented in many versions is the character of Phoebus. The novel has, of course, the hero, Quasimodo (who is also deaf, as were all bellringers in the days before ear protection), the villain, Claude Frollo (who is possibly one of the most despicable characters in French literature I’ve come across) and the beautiful wronged Gypsy woman, Esmeralda. And then there’s Phoebus.

In the book, Phoebus is best described as a weasel. Like Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, he doesn’t have the cojones to truly be a bad guy. He does bad things in a moment of weakness and either doesn’t own up to them, or blames his weaknesses, or blames other people for not taking his weaknesses into account. Phoebus, however, is so much more painfully well-wrought than Dimmesdale is. No other character in literature filled me with such pathetic disgust like he did. When people talk about what they would do if they could magically travel inside one of their favourite books and meet its characters, I don’t think of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, or Winter’s Tale, or any of the “Black Company” books, or even hanging out in a tavern in Lankhmar with the Grey Mouser and his companion. I think of how sweet it would be to step inside 15th Century Paris, find Captain Phoebus, and just smack the everloving shit out of him. No character deserves it more than he does.

So fast-forward to the mid-nineties, when I see a trailer for the Disney movie. True, I’d been a little disappointed with Pocahontas, (who wasn’t?) but the movies that Disney had been putting out since 1989 (The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) were stunning enough for me to look forward to what they were going to do with perhaps my favourite French Gothic novel. And then I saw a toy commercial for the movie, and amidst the other plasticized characters, the announcer pointed out “Brave Phoebus.”

Brave Phoebus.

This was a character that perhaps caused most of the bad things in the novel to happen, was too weaselly to do anything about it, and still somehow came out ahead in the end.

Of course, the little cynic that I keep locked in a trunk in the back of my head piped up, “Well, of course they had to make him the hero. God Forbid they make a hero out of the ugly deaf guy. I mean, really… what would that teach our children?”

I’ve never seen any direct evidence that that was the direct cause of Phoebus’ transformation but everything else that Disney’s done since then (like Merida‘s makeover from self-sufficient warrior tomboy to glamourized, sexualized, properly keeping to her own place Disney Princess) hasn’t disproved my hypothesis.

This is why us writers and artists and creators need to produce quality stories about quality people, adults and children. Real people. Warts and body odor and clumsiness, along with accidental good deeds, kind eyes, and a way of occasionally doing the right thing. (The cynical movement in literature and film is just as naïve and detached from reality as the Polyanna-esque ‘everything is sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts movement.) Even though it may be one day Disneyfuc’d into something barely resembling its origin, the stories need to be there. And once the story’s out there, flip it over and tell it from another point of view. Or tell it backwards. Or tell a realistic version of a magical tale or vice-versa. The slippery plastic sheen of homogenous popular culture may always be more visible, but people are always willing to dip beneath it for the good stuff, if you give them a reason to.